Expansions, Workforce Alliances Propel Manufacturing Revival
Manufacturing has always been synonymous with the Oh-Penn Region, but just a few years ago losses in this industry were weighing heavily on the region's economy. Not so any longer.
Big job gains and major plant expansions are leading to a renaissance in the area's manufacturing sector. Economists credit the turnaround to the success of job skills and employment initiatives as well as funding programs designed to attract businesses to the region and keep them there.
GE, GM Expand Facilities
Recently announced expansions include two of the region's major employers, General Motors and General Electric. GM produces the Chevrolet Cruze at its Lordstown Complex in Warren, Ohio, where it recently invested $350 million and added 1,200 workers. In late 2011, the company announced plans to build a diesel version of the Cruze in 2013, with an additional investment of $5.5 million. Increased demand for the fuel-efficient Cruze has prompted the company to bring a third shift back to the Lordstown plant, already one of the world's highest-volume, single-line vehicle assembly facilities.
In December, General Electric announced plans to establish a new remanufacturing facility near its Grove City, Pa. plant, which makes locomotive engines. The company will invest about $35 million to build the new facility and create 150 new jobs by early 2013. GE also plans to invest $37 million at its existing Grove City plant, which has been in operation for more than 40 years.
Support from state and local officials helped make the expansion possible, says Richard Simpson, who leads GE’s Global Services Supply Chain Operations.
“They are strong partners in solidifying the economic and manufacturing base here in Northwest Pennsylvania,” Simpson says.
Manufacturing is also getting a major economic shot in the arm with the development of Marcellus Shale natural gas extraction activities in Ohio and Pennsylvania. Many companies are relocating to or expanding in the region to support the logistic and materials needs of the extraction process.
Alliances, Job Programs Raise Hopes
One of the biggest factors in the region’s success has been the alliances formed to solve the pressing problems facing local industries, such as skilled labor shortages. That was the idea behind the Mahoning Valley Manufacturers Coalition, which manufacturers formed to attract and retain the highly skilled workers needed to operate their businesses.
“Recognizing that collectively we represent a significant portion of the regional economy, we thought it was essential to address the skilled jobs issues and create a common voice," says Brian Benyo, president of the MVMC and owner of Brilex Industries.
More than 30 companies are part of the coalition, most of which are manufacturers in the metal machining and fabricating sector. MVMC works with educational institutions to educate students on promising career opportunities in these industries.
“We want those in the educational system to know there are financially rewarding careers in our industries,” Benyo says.
To address the skilled labor shortage, the coalition has been creating internships and mentoring programs to give potential employees a firsthand glimpse of their manufacturing operations and what they offer. This spring, the group teamed with educators and public officials at a jointly-sponsored Workforce Summit to find solutions for developing and retraining a skilled workforce in the region.
“Manufacturing is such a great economic driver that we have to solve these problems – and we will," says Jessica Borza, MVMC executive director.
The number of educated workers is already on the rise, thanks to the region's success utilizing the WorkKeys program, a job assessment that measures skills employers believe are critical to success. Potential employees can take the WorkKeys test to determine their eligibility for employment. The Oh-Penn Interstate Region recently received a $550,000 grant from the Wal-Mart Foundation to expand WorkKeys throughout the area.